Alicia Wilson, a West Philadelphia Senior Community Center employee, shared the story of her mother, Private Sylvia Armstrong, who was a member of the first Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in World War II. Sylvia served in the the 6888th United States Postal Battalion, the first regimen of women soldiers ever formed in history.
“My mother set the standard service for my family,” Alicia said. “My family has represented every branch of the military since 1943. All of the men in our family, and some of the women, have followed her into service.”
Sylvia traveled to France on the USS Liberty in 1943. The ship was taken under siege by Nazi soldiers for nine days until the United States Navy arrived and they were able to land safely.
Sylvia grew up in Savannah Georgia, and dropped out of school when she was very young to help her mother clean the homes of white families. When she joined the Army, everything was segregated between blacks and whites. “Everyone on the USS Liberty was black, except for the officers,” Alicia says.
For Sylvia, segregation, oppression and racism were commonplace. When she arrived in France, she was shocked at how well the black troops were treated by the Europeans.
“She discovered that living in France was much different than living in the south. It was better. People treated her better, and she was allowed to do things that she wasn’t allowed to do in the south, like try on clothes and shoes,” Alicia said. Sylvia learned that she did not have to accept the way that she was treated by whites in the south.
In 1945 Sylvia returned home with five medals, and was able to attend college on in G.I. Bill.
To read Sylvia’s full story, which Alicia wrote for a creative writing class, please Click Here